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Preparing for Your Career

Planning for the right type of job

Start early. Finding time to devote to your career planning is not easy. But early exploration and preparation are crucial for later success.

Think broadly. Explore different ways to use your graduate degree. In addition to teaching and research inside and outside of the academy, consider jobs in government, the non-profit sector, and industry. Informational interviews with people in different jobs and working in different kinds of institutions can help you make the career decisions that are best for you. Following the business press (e.g., The Wall Street Journal) or trade publications specific to your discipline can help you learn about many issues relevant to your chosen field and what trends are shaping that field.

Understand what you want. The best job is one that is right for you. Know what you want out of your career — in academia or elsewhere. Have a career vision and link your goals to the preparation that you will need for being a standout candidate. Having a career plan will help you think about which publications, presentations, and activities you can do to show that you are right for the type of job that you want.

Position yourself for the market. Focus on cultivating professional relationships with your committee members, demonstrating professionalism to them, and doing quality work—regardless of the type of job you want to secure. After all, your committee members and references are asked to comment on multiple facets of you as an applicant, not just your writing, research, teaching, or organizational skills.

Planning for an academic job

The above principles apply especially to academic jobs, the preparation for which involves very long cycles. Decisions about research presentations and publications need to be made years before you go on the market. For example, in order to give a presentation on your dissertation research before you go on the market, you will need to have a paper ready for submission often a full year before job application deadlines. To have an article listed on your vita for the academic job market as “in press,” it should be under review by the January before you go on the market at the very latest. Cultivating a professional reputation in the field, in advance, will help you significantly when you go on the market.

Successful academic searches

Match skills and interests to the position. Early planning will help you get your ideal job. Interested in research-oriented positions? Having a publication record of your own and collaborating with faculty will help you here. Demonstrate distinction in teaching as well as research on your vita. Want to stay open to industry? Working on consulting projects during graduate school will help you build a portfolio of projects and skills that translate easily outside of the academy.

Communicate clearly and effectively. Each advertised academic job can yield more than 100 applications. Help the search committee understand what you might bring to the department, what makes your work interesting, and how you fit the advertised position—don’t make busy people hunt for buried information. Compelling cover letters are crucial! Work with your advisers on the best way to communicate your skills, achievements, and interests in your application materials. Pay particular attention to grammar, style, and formatting in all materials as your attention to details reflects upon your ability to be a professional scholar.

Help your letter writers help you. By communicating your interests clearly, providing copies of materials, and allow- ing ample time, you can help your letter writers write better, more detailed recommendations for you. Remember, we’re all busy—make sure you help your letter writers understand your deadlines and give them ample time to do a good job. Be sure to ask your chair for personal introductions to people at the schools where you are applying.

Remember: It’s about the fit

Hopefully your job search will be successful the first time out. If it isn’t—don’t despair! Use the time to push yourself back into your work and into the preparation for the next cycle of applications. Remember, this is a process that matches your skills and interests with the needs of an organization or department—it might take a while to find the perfect job match for you.

by Gina Neff, associate professor, Communication

A Dozen Sentences that Should Appear in Your Academic Job Application Letter

When you apply for an academic job, your cover letter helps a hiring committee interpret your curriculum vitae and conveys your excitement about and dedication to your work.

Your mission is to land an academic job. The immediate goal is to use the cover letter to get you on two shortlists — the shortlist of a dozen people who will be invited to submit more writing samples and have references checked, followed by the shortlist of three or four people who will be invited to visit the hiring department.

Cover letters should include 12 pieces of information that hiring committees are seeking:

  1. “I would like to be considered for the position of [title copied from job ad] in [exact department name from job ad] at the [exact institution name from job ad]. I am an advanced doctoral candidate in [your department].”
    This opening should be short and can certainly vary. The odds are that you will submit for many jobs, be shortlisted for a few, and be offered one or two. In all the cutting and pasting, make sure these letters are correctly addressed to the chair of the search committee or the chair of the department.
  2. “My doctoral project is a study of [cocktail party description]. Much of the research on this topic suggests that [characterize the literature as woefully inadequate]. But I [demonstrate, reveal, discover] that contrary to received wisdom, [your punch line].”
    This is the key statement about your doctoral project. Demonstrate how you will contribute to an intellectual conversation that is larger than your project – but unable to advance without your findings. The next paragraph should detail your research with one sentence on each chapter in your manuscript.
  3. “To complete this research I have spent [X years] doing [fieldwork / lab work / archival work / statistical analysis]. I have travelled to [these cities or libraries], interviewed [X number of experts], created [original datasets/original compositions/original artwork].”
    This sentence should be followed by a paragraph with the story of your research process. Overwhelm the committee with the volume of artifacts you’ve studied, people you’ve talked to, time you have dedicated or places you’ve been.
  4. “I have completed [X] of [Y] chapters of my dissertation, and I have included two substantive chapters as part of my writing sample.”
    Many hiring committees expect their top candidates to be almost finished with the doctoral project, since the dissertation is a test of commitment to a research trajectory. Ideally, the review committee will be excited by your original research and beg you for more once you are on a short list. Your mentors should confirm this information in their letters.
  5. “I have well-developed drafts of several other chapters, and expect to defend in [month, year]. OR Having defended in [month, year], I plan to [turn it into a book-length manuscript for a major scholarly press / select key chapters for publication in disciplinary journals].”
    Your advisors will also confirm these things. Committees want to know that your defense will not take place while you are working on their coin. If any of your committee members are unwilling to commit to even a season of the year for your defense date, or you don’t have two substantive chapters to submit to the hiring committee, it’s too early for you to be on the academic job market.
  6. “Although my primary area of research is [disciplinary keyword here], I have additional expertise in [another disciplinary keyword here] and am eager to teach in both areas. I have [taught/served as a teaching assistant] in courses about [A, B and C]. In the next few years, I hope to develop courses in [X and Y].”
    Departments love hiring people who can teach several topics. Look up the courses offered in the department to which you are applying, and use their keywords. Although the hiring committee will take research fit as most important, teaching skills and interests will be taken seriously. Specify courses in which you served as a teaching assistant and those in which you were the instructor of record.
  7. “For the most part, my approach to research is through [social science or humanistic method keyword here], and I would be interested in developing a methods class on this approach to research.”
    Many departments struggle to find faculty who will teach methods classes, and signaling your interest likely will put you ahead. Job candidates are particularly valuable if they demonstrate how they cross methodological boundaries, appreciate diverse approaches to inquiry, and can contribute to advancing knowledge with different analytical frames.
  8. “Although I have been focused on my graduate research for several years, I have been actively involved in conversations with [scholars in the department you are applying to, or scholars at other universities/professional associations/conferences/other disciplines].”
    This can be the one paragraph about service, highlighting conferences you’ve attended, workshops you’ve organized, and other ways you’ve supported your discipline. If you are applying for work in a department that is different from the one that trained you, demonstrate how you already have affinities for the new discipline, such as showing that you are familiar with faculty interests.
  9. “In the next few years, I hope to be able to investigate [reasonably related problems or questions].”
    Address your research trajectory over the next five years. The department will be investing in the person they hire, so the hiring committee will look for the direction your research will take. Communicate future research possibilities eloquently; don’t leave the committee to assume you will be doing more of the same.
  10. “I am interested in this post for a variety of reasons: [something about the character of the department/university/community/city].”
    The committee will be happy that you know something about the place you want to work. This may be particularly true for colleges and universities with distinct liberal arts traditions or unique community programs, or are not located in major urban areas. A committee might not interview you if the members believe you would not seriously consider a job offer.
  11. “Because of my graduate training, my doctoral research, and my teaching [experience/interests], I am uniquely qualified for this job.”
    Within a few sentences address your general focus and course work, and point to your experience teaching in the domains mentioned in the job description. Write a brief statement on why you are uniquely qualified for the job.
  12. “In the next few months, I will be attending the [conference A] and [conference B]. If you or your colleagues are also planning to attend, I would be happy to meet for an informal conversation.”
    Many departments make their first short list phone interviews or informal conference visits. Alert the committee if you are giving a paper so they can see you in action.

These sentences are in roughly the order they should appear in for applications to jobs at research schools. Most of the content should be about research, followed by one or two paragraphs about teaching and perhaps one paragraph about service. If the job is mostly about teaching, expand the amount of space dedicated to that topic.

Shoot for two and a half pages of content: less than that and you might not seem like an advanced doctoral candidate well immersed in a project; more than that and committee members may stop reading. As you write, drop in the names of granting agencies that have supported you, or the journals that are publishing or reviewing your work. Ideally several faculty members will write letters on your behalf. If possible, at least one letter writer can come from a university other than yours. Hiring committees love reference letters on different university letterheads; it shows that you have social capital beyond your home department.

Address your letter to the person heading the search or the department head. A greeting such as “Dear Committee Members” shows you haven’t done enough research. Ask a friend proofread your document for grammar and spelling.

Finally, follow up with the department. Hiring committees do not always tell candidates whether they are on the short list. If you finish another dissertation chapter, or get an article published, a few weeks after submitting your letter, submit an update by e-mail and ask that this example be added to your file and where the committee is in the hiring process.

by Philip N. Howard, professor, Communication

Summer Tips for Your Career Development

Summer is as good a time as any to invest in your professional development! Whether you already have your eyes set on the job of your dreams or are considering a range of career paths, there are several activities that can help you reach your professional goals. Below are a just a few to get your started.

Use a career assessment or career exploration tool. Career assessments can help you identify your strengths, skills, and values in relation to jobs that pique your interest. These assessments can also help you narrow down particular fields or industries that are a match with your career goals. If you’re in the humanities or social sciences, consider checking out the career exploration tool called ImaginePhD (master’s students can use this as well). If you’re in the STEM disciplines, try out myIDP Science Careers. Both tools are free!

Lead informational interviews. An informational interview is an informal conversation with a professional working in a field of interest to you. It is an opportunity for you to engage in a meaningful conversation to hear and learn about an individual’s career trajectory, knowledge of a particular industry, additional networking referrals, and more. These insights can help you make informed choices during your job search. The Career and Internship Center on the Seattle campus refers to an informational interview as a career conversation.

Be a volunteer or intern. If you’re exploring a range of career paths, consider being a volunteer or intern on a short-term basis. Explore paid and unpaid internship opportunities listed on Handshake (a free service for UW students). If being a volunteer or intern involves too much of a time commitment for you and your schedule, considering setting up a job shadow experience to get a feel for a particular profession. Keep in mind that being a volunteer or intern to gain professional experience is neither extra-curricular nor a distraction to writing a thesis or dissertation — these work experiences can help you gain skills and make you a stronger candidate for jobs outside of academia. Here’s another article about pursuing internships while being a graduate student. 

Read job postings. Reading job listings are important to career exploration. Derek Attig has come up with several self-reflective strategies that make perusing job ads less tedious and more useful. Ask yourself the following questions: (1) Can I imagine myself doing the tasks required for this job? (2) Do the values of the employer resonate with my own? (3) What might I dislike about the job I am reading about? (4) Am I on board with the mission of the employer?

We encourage you to take the time to invest in your professional development this summer and let us know what career tips work for you! Finally, you are receiving this newsletter based on your affiliation as a new or returning graduate student at the University of Washington. If you wish to unsubscribe from this newsletter, please click here and visit this blog post for directions on managing your subscription preferences.

Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs
UW Graduate School

Being Intentional and Productive This Summer

Summer is the perfect time to make room for activities and experiences that will help you be—and feel—prepared for the coming academic year! The pace can feel slower during this time of the year, and there’s a little more wiggle room to be intentional about visualizing and achieving your intellectual, professional, and interpersonal goals. Maybe you’re starting from scratch (or already have some initial goals) and just need a plan of action. Maybe you need some structured time and support to work on a writing project? Or maybe you’re interested in career development activities?

No matter where you’re at, below are some initial strategies that can help you create intentional space for productivity this summer!

Create a plan to meet your goals. As graduate students—and as whole people with complex lives—we know that completing your graduate degree is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to meeting your goals. And we know it takes time to reflect on the skills you already possess—and the academic, professional, and interpersonal competencies you’d like to develop in the future.  Creating an Individual Development Plan (IDP) can help you map out realistic, achievable goals for your time in graduate school and beyond. Use your IDP as a roadmap for meeting with mentors and advisors. What’s great about an IDP is that you can adapt and revise as you see fit!

Make progress on your writing. Whether you are working on a thesis, dissertation, or an article for publication, set achievable and concrete writing goals for yourself this summer. In past Core Programs newsletters, we encouraged you to start out by setting aside 15-minute blocks of time to write each day. Then try working your way up to 30-minute chunks of time. You’ll eventually see that you’re making progress. Reach out to peers (they can be peers outside of your graduate program too) to schedule skype and/or in-person writing support group meetings. You can receive and share constructive feedback on writing projects and hold each other accountable to getting tasks done. Finally, here are great tips on how to move past feeling stuck in a writing rut from Dr. Kerry Anne Rockquemore, President of the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity.

Get involved in professional development activities. There are many ways to brush up on your professional development this summer. 1) Update your CV or resume with skills and professional experiences you have gained from 2016–2017. 2) Identify conferences you’d like to present your work at for the coming year and mark those proposal and registration deadlines on your calendar. 3) Set up informational interviews to network with professionals currently working in fields or companies you’re interested in working for. 4) Volunteer in your local community to gain skills and to give back. 4) Contact your UW career center at Bothell, Tacoma, or Seattle for guidance with your internship or job search. 5) Check out just a few of our Core Programs newsletter links below on professional development:

Research funding opportunities. Whether you are seeking travel funds to participate in an academic or professional conference or grants to fund your research, start by learning about the breadth of possible funding opportunities available to you. Because application deadlines and eligibility requirements vary widely—and can sneak up on you when you’re busy during the academic year—it’s always a good idea to plan in advance.

Funding Information Resources

We hope you find these strategies useful, and please let us know of tips that worked for you!

Core Programs Team

Finding the Right Fit for Your Talent

In late January 2016, the Graduate School co-hosted an annual Career Symposium for graduate students and postdocs. We wanted to share just a few pearls from the terrific UW alums who sat on the panel and also hosted conversations during the networking reception. Bottom line: the job search is about finding the right fit for your talent. Be creative about your career options, test out new ways to tell the story of your (deep) experience and skill set, and it is never too early to start exploring and building your network.

Getting Started

  • Evolve your resume. Your resume should always be evolving.  Describe examples of specific accomplishments, including those that came up during your education and training.  What problems did you approach, how did you solve them, with what results?
  • Build your experience. Find out what the key skills or top tools are used in the field of interest, and learn them. Look at the whole picture of your experience, inside and outside of graduate education.  Align your skill sets to particular positions or organizations. Use specific examples in your talking points and written materials with the goal of making yourself stand out from an applicant pool.
  • Demonstrate excellent communication skills (in writing and in person). Be able to discuss complex ideas in a simple, clear, concise fashion. Especially, be ready to describe what you are working on for your research in 30 seconds or less in a way that anyone can understand.
  • Consider entry-level positions. Don’t get discouraged by entry-level positions.  It can be helpful to get your foot in the door, demonstrate your contribution and capability and depending on the organization (check this out first) you can move up within 3-6 months.
  • Find your passion. Pay attention to your energy and passion as those are the kinds of jobs you should be looking for (and not others!).


  • Start early. It is never too early to start building and growing your network.
  • Talk about your talent and passion. Practice. Get comfortable. Own it, but without arrogance. Do mock interviews.
  • Set up networking meetings – informational interviews. Identify target companies to start with to narrow your options.
  • Use LinkedIn strategically. Start with classmates, alums, professors.  Join groups that might create good professional connections.
  • Attend receptions. Send a resume to those you’ve connected with as a follow up. Personal connections always move a resume up if it is already in the pool. Face-to-face meetings spark interest and connection.
  • Ask questions. You are interviewing the informant and the organization to determine fit as much as they are interviewing you.  Show them you want to know what the work is like, that it matters to you (that is, you aren’t just looking for “a job”). Questions you can ask: what is your day-to-day work like? What is the best part of what you do? The most challenging? What is the culture like here? What would you change about your job (or the organization) if you could?


  • Phone interview. Phone interviews are important.  Always prepare as you would for an in-person, and follow up with a thank you email or note.
  • Answering technical questions. If they ask you a technical question, or to solve a technical problem during the interview, how should you handle it?  The interviewers mostly want to know how you think rather than the answer to the problem.  It is important to show how you would approach the problem, what you’d consider, and why.
  • Be relationally savvy. Organizations are looking for people who will be colleagues.
  • Show resilience. You can’t always control what interviewers will ask or how they will behave.  Show some resilience and keep your composure, as well as keeping things in perspective.  If you don’t like how you were treated in an interview, chances are you don’t want to work there anyway!
  • Not hearing back. You might not hear back. Have persistence. Keep honing your materials and learning from the process.

Interviews are helpful as I can tell right away if someone has the logic skills of a squirrel.”
– Mike Bardaro (UW Chemistry alum), Senior Data Scientist AOL


Originally posted on January 28, 2016.

Effective Job Search Tips from Employers

You’re investing time (and money) building your skills, knowledge, and experience in graduate school, and earning that degree is just one piece of the puzzle in your professional development. As you think about future career options (inside or outside of academia), there are a number of things to consider–and work on–to help you be the right match between you and potential employers.

Check out these strategies:

Reflection.  Reflect on what you really want. What are you passionate about? What type of impact do you want to make? What work environment would best suit you? Imagine yourself in different environments and jobs – what draws you in?

Build Relationships.  Networking, meeting people, becoming known, expressing genuine curiosity in others – is absolutely critical. Informational interviews, mixers, conferences, and coffee meetings are all great strategies to build relationships. Be intentional in your approach to networking and always try to walk away with two names of potential contacts. Often times, job candidates who make it through the first round of resume screenings are those who have somebody advocating for their application.

Professionalism.  Evaluate and maintain your brand and professionalism – examples include an intuitive e-mail address, an appropriate voicemail message, a polished and up-to-date LinkedIn profile, and non-embarassing posts/pictures on social media sites.
Translate – Practice internalizing and communicating how aspects of your graduate work translates into a broader skill set – project management, meeting multiple deadlines on time, problem-solving, clear and effective communication, etc.

Communicate.  Practice communicating your work to all different types of audiences, at different levels of detail, in different mediums – academic presentations, posters, concise slide decks, executive summaries, and conversations with your neighbors are some examples.
Intangibles – Be confident about what you bring to the table; passionate about your background and the job opportunity; genuine and true to yourself; steer clear of being presumptuous or full of yourself.

Focus on the Employer.  Convince recruiters that you want to do those tasks, in that job, in that organization, in that sector. Directly state how you will bring value to them, what you can do for their organization, and what you can do to further that company’s goals. This requires that you research employers very carefully–mission, environment, catalysts for change, job description, etc.

Application Materials.  Create targeted, specific, non-generic application packets that convey why you want the position. Use specific words from the job description in your cover letters and resumes. Quantify your contributions when possible and discuss the impact or results of your work. Have somebody proofread your materials; simple things like spelling errors can get your application tossed out. Treat the job search like a job and give it the effort it deserves.

Interviews.  Take the interviewing process seriously and prepare ahead of time. Anticipate what you’ll be asked. Role-play various interview questions. Prepare a few examples in advance that show qualities you wish to highlight. Effective stories will be succinct and include: Situation, Task, Action, Result. Be specific. Focus on your role in projects you’re discussing. Make good eye contact.

Tips gathered by Briana Randall from the Employer Panel at the 11th Annual Career Symposium & Networking Reception–an event co-sponsored by the Graduate School and Career Center in January 2015. Briana is the Associate Director of the Career Center. Check out more academic and non-academic career development resources.